I’ve lost count of the number of self catering properties we’ve settled into, from holiday houses and villas to serviced apartments and apart-hotels, from staying only in holiday rentals during our 2010 grand tour to last month testing out short-term apartments in Phnom Penh. We thought it time to share some of our best tips to renting holiday apartments.

If you’ve been with us since the beginning of Grantourismo when we did our 12-month global grand tour, you might recall us providing these Tips on Renting a Riad in Morocco for travellers and writing this post With Holiday Rentals It’s The Little Things that Make a Difference that was directed at holiday rental owners. Recent experiences reminded us how vastly different apartment rentals can be and motivated us to provide some more tips for travellers planning to rent holiday apartments.

We’ve rented most of our apartments in Europe over the years — everywhere from Barcelona, which is home to sophisticated online apartment rental operations like Only-apartments (which now has apartments all over the world) to Amsterdam, where we rented an idiosyncratic canal house studio with a crooked floor directly from an eccentric psychiatrist — and we’ve really tried them all.

However, it’s probably the apartment rentals in Australia that impressed us the most. The finest come equipped with some of the best amenities in the world, from fancy Italian espresso coffee machines to full laundry facilities, hi-tech entertainment gear to quality linens and towels, whether they’re family owned, such as Number Six in Perth, which we’ve rented for months on end when researching books in Perth, or are one of the major nationwide brands like Medina or Mantra. They’re expensive compared to rentals in other countries, but by Australian standards you get your money’s worth.

The serviced apartment we recently tested out for a month in Phnom Penh by contrast was substantially cheaper, however, we really got what we paid for — very little at all! There were very basic kitchen amenities — such as a couple of plates, two spoons and forks, two glasses, a small pan, and pot etc — but important essentials were missing like cups, bowls, and knives, and the place wasn’t really equipped for people who like to cook, as we do. There wasn’t even a wok, so it wasn’t as if the apartment had only been set up for Asians.

The lack of bath towels, toilet paper and soap were evidence that the management or owners simply hadn’t given much consideration to guest needs. Luckily — as we’d travelled all day and arrived in the evening — we had a tiny pack of tissues, some hotel toiletries, and those small quick-drying camping towels. Admittedly, after we complained and made suggestions as to the sorts of things they should be providing for guests, the management sent their staff out shopping and they returned the next afternoon with all the things we’d recommended.

Another nasty surprise had come before we’d even seen the apartment when we went to the office to pay our rent — additional costs for things like Internet and utilities that we’d been told would be included in our rental fee weren’t it now seemed. It should be said that Cambodia is pretty new to the holiday apartment rental business, although there are plenty of apartments aimed at expats and NGO workers in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and there is an abundance of beautiful boutique hotels in both cities also.

Regardless, our experience served to remind us of the kinds of questions travellers should be asking when renting holiday apartments and the importance of not taking anything for granted, as apartment rentals vary vastly, from Barcelona to Bangkok and Paris to Phnom Penh.

Use these tips as you see fit, as a checklist or a set of questions to put to holiday rental owners, managers or agents, and please do add any tips you may have in the comments below.


Scrutinize the booking site listing

Some apartment rental sites use symbols while others provide detailed descriptions, and the best will provide both; make sure you’re very clear about the facilities and amenities, what exactly it is that you are renting, and what is being provided.

Ask questions directly of the owner, manager or agent

Never book a property immediately on the site, no matter how professional the apartment rental booking site looks, and how good their reputation is; unless you’re really stuck for time and are travelling at the last minute, always click that ‘enquire’ or ‘contact owner’ button and ask some detailed questions before committing.

Request photos, dimensions, a floor plan, address, and map location

If the site only has a few photos ask, to see more; if it doesn’t specify the property size, ask exactly what the floor space is; if you’re settling in for a while or staying with family or friends, ask to see a floor plan; and make sure you ask for a street address (although they might not give you a number) and/or a map reference, as sometimes properties are not where they should be.

Find out if there’s a rental agreement or lease

Some holiday rental owners are very relaxed, simply handing over the keys upon your arrival or even leaving them in the mail box or under a pot plant, while others will expect you to sign an agreement or, if it’s for a stay of one month or more, even a lease. Ask if these documents are used, and if they are, ask the owner or agent to email them to you before you commit so you know exactly what you’re in for.

Ask exactly what the fee includes

If there isn’t an agreement or lease, don’t assume anything; ask if the fee on the booking site covers everything or whether it’s only for the rent and utilities such as Internet, gas and electricity cost extra, and if services like cleaning are included. If they are extra, ask for specific figures or, where it’s electricity or water that is determined by use and a meter, ask what guests pay on average for a stay similar to the one you’re doing. You’ll need these details to determine what your ultimate outlay will be. With internet, check if the cost is for unlimited access; sometimes a fee might cover a certain amount of data and then you’ll have to pay for more.

Find out if there’s an inventory

The use of a formal inventory of apartment amenities is not the norm everywhere and we didn’t come across them much until we started renting serviced apartments in Asia. An inventory lists everything provided, from cutlery and linen to lamps and appliances. If one exists, the owner or agent will expect you to check everything’s there when you arrive, tick things off, and sign it. If you break, damage or lose something, you’ll be expected to pay for its replacement, so make sure you take a good look to check everything’s there and you’re not paying for something already missing.

Ask for the inventory in advance

If there is an inventory, ask them to email it to you in advance. It will be considerably more detailed than the description of what the holiday apartment includes on the website, so it will give you a better idea of exactly what is provided and what isn’t, and what you may need to buy or bring. Handy information if you’re staying for a couple of weeks or a month, especially if travelling with family or a group of friends.

Don’t hesitate to address the basics

It may sound petty to ask if there’ll be things like toilet paper, soap, bottled water and tea bags on your arrival, but these simple things can make a difference, especially if you arrive after a long journey, late at night when the shops are closed, or you’re staying in a location that might involve a trip back into the centre of town. If they don’t provide the basics, you can ask them to, or you can simply bring them along. Trust us, the toilet paper question is an important one!

What have we missed? Do you have any tips to renting holiday apartments when you travel? What kind of questions do you think are important to ask before committing to a rental? 

Great vacation places to stay at www.HomeAway.Asia

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